Uncle Sam’s Submarines – Squirrel Hill & Robinson Township
I was introduced to Uncle Sam’s Submarines on Oakland Avenue while matriculating at the University of Pittsburgh during my sophomore year of college. I immediately fell in love. Back then, I weighed 225 pounds, smoked a pack a day, and drank malt liquor like it was going out of style (which it actually did). Uncle Sam’s calorie-laden hoagies and greasy fries were but another wonderfully unhealthy addition to my lifestyle of debauchery. After college I lost 70 pounds, stopped smoking and seriously curbed my drinking. The only habit I can’t kick from that time period is a bi-weekly trip to Uncle Sam’s for their Turkey Breast Sub.
When I moved south of the city to Carnegie in 2001, I frequently drove through the evil Fort Pitt tunnels and west on I-376 to Uncle Sam’s in Squirrel Hill just to step up to the counter and say “Turkey with provolone, hot, no onions, no tomato and an order of fries to-go please”. This establishment was (and still is) cash-only, and I found myself frequently running to the nearby ATM on Murray when I forgot this oh-so-important financial fact. After a few treacherous years of the dogged commute, the Hoagie Gods answered my prayers for a closer spot and an Uncle Sam’s opened in Robinson. Nevertheless, whenever my wife and I are kicking around the east end and in need of lunch, the Squirrel Hill spot still tops my list as the default area option to fill my belly.
A recent visit to the restaurant showed that not much has changed in the last ten years as far as its appearance goes. The interior is pretty outdated and the woodwork paneling can generously be described as grubby. Contrary to the clinical, ready-made environment of Subway, Uncle Sam’s has a large griddle manned by enthusiastic, un-gloved cooks skillfully grilling meat-to-order while they try and watch sports on the mounted television. Large framed photos of Pittsburgh’s past add some semblance of style to the decor, but overall the environment is not visually appealing. Our dining table was also lacking due to it wobbly lopsidedness. My wife had to stick a wad* of napkins under one of the legs just to get back to level.
These shortcomings were quickly forgotten when our order number was called and the cheerful sub-runner delivered the food. My bread roll was fresh and soft, and the sub’s stuffing of turkey, cheese and lettuce was mouthwateringly delicious. Since we dined-in, my sandwich came with a side of complimentary shoestring fries that I unrepentantly doused in more salt and quickly scarfed-up.
The Uncle Sam’s in Robinson is located deep inside the sprawling, gentrified sea of strip malls that make up The Pointe. Upon entry, the atmosphere of their inner-city locations has been retained with the signature large chalkboard and Pittsburgh memorabilia adorning the walls. However, the general feel is much fresher and modernized with the addition of neon signs and flat screen televisions. Another welcome improvement of this suburban location is the inclusion of alcohol to the drink menu. There are no taps, just a small selection of bottles. The fact that I can wash my sub down with a couple Red Stripes (Lager - 4.70% ABV) is a dream come true so you won’t ever hear me complaining about the lack of drafts. The only downside with this location is that I have recently moved and now it’s much less convenient. I guess it’s time for me to start praying to the Hoagie Gods again.
Final Call: Whether Squirrel Hill or Robinson, I’ve always gotten wonderful food from Uncle Sam’s and their turkey sub is definitely the meal I’d miss the most if I ever moved away from Pittsburgh. I’m fairly certain that their fries are solely responsible for me weighing about seven pounds more than I should, but I’m married so luckily my physique doesn’t matter anymore.
* “Wad” is another word like “moist” that just sounds dirty.